MINNEAPOLIS - Eric Curry stepped out on the Williams Arena floor Friday morning for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team’s local media day. He was in full uniform, and sat in a chair waiting to speak with local reporters.
One would never guess by his demeanor that for the second time in three years, he won’t play in 2019-20 because of another season-ending knee injury. He tore the ACL in his right knee during practice last week. He’ll likely seek a medical redshirt after the season for another year of eligibility, and he intends to be back as good as new.
His main focus is staying positive around his teammates.
“Obviously it sucks to go through this all once again, but I mean on the positive side, I’m getting another extra year,” Curry said. “That’s going to help those guys out, seeing me positive is going to help them out as well. Like I tell everybody else, of course it sucks but I’ll overcome it like I did the last injury. My spirits are high,” Curry said.
Curry vividly recalled what happened in practice the day his season ended before it ever really got the chance to start. The Gophers were scrimmaging, and he was attempting a defensive close it. He took a step, slid and felt his right knee buckle.
He walked gingerly off the practice floor and had ice on his knee the rest of the day. An MRI revealed the full damage: A torn anterior cruciate ligament. He talked with Gophers’ coach Richard Pitino via FaceTime after his MRI showed his season was over. There wasn’t any pity, there was actually positivity.
“I can’t believe his attitude, it’s phenomenal. There was no feeling sorry for himself. Very, very positive,” Pitino said. “I love the fact that he’s legitimately like another coach. He should be commended for his attitude.”
Curry will be coaching up teammates like Daniel Oturu, Jarvis Omersa and grad transfer Alihan Demir. Those three are the most likely to see increased playing time as a result of Curry’s injury.
Unfortunately for Curry, being hurt is nothing new to him. He showed flashes of his potential in his freshman year, averaging 5.5 points per game in a valued role at power forward off the bench. He scored in double figures in seven games, and had two games of at least 10 rebounds.
The Gophers won 24 games that season and were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The team was primed to take the next step when Curry’s first major knee injury happened. He was playing a pick-up game with teammates before the fall season got started and got injured. He tore the ACL, MCL and damaged the meniscus in his left knee, missing the entire 2017-18 season. He had surgery, went through a rigorous rehab process and got back on the court for 15 games last season, including five starts.
His comeback got delayed after having to have another knee surgery in the fall to clean up more damage from the initial injury.
Then, it was announced before the Gophers hosted Purdue on Senior Night back in March that Curry suffered a foot injury that required surgery. He missed Minnesota’s last seven games, including a run to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and an NCAA first-round win over Louisville. In 15 games before the foot injury, he had averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and had been a valued contributor on defense.
He’s stayed positive through it all and pushed on his teammates. That’s what he knows, and it’s what he’s sticking to.
“Man, he’s a tough kid. He’s very strong. You don’t really have to say anything to him,” sophomore Jarvis Omersa said. “For Eric personally, he’s like ‘Bro you know I got this.’ We support you no matter what, bro. We love you, we’ll be here throughout the whole grind and comeback.”
Last week’s gut punch was the latest for Curry in three years of injuries. Basketball players practice close outs all the time, but one slip and buckling of his right knee cost him another season.
It was on the same day that Pitino awarded senior walk-on Brady Rudrud a scholarship at the end of practice.
“I just tried to not bring his moment down with mine. He was texting me about to cry, I was like ‘Bro, you just got a scholarship, go celebrate. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,’” Curry said.
Senior Michael Hurt, who represented the Gophers along with Marcus Carr at Big Ten Media Day, said Curry’s positive energy amongst the team has not gone unnoticed.
“That’s the biggest thing that’s surprised me is just how his mentality has been. A lot of guys could just go home and not even come to practice, not say anything in practice,” Hurt said. “He’s been really upbeat, which I think has really lifted the spirts of our team. I’m really proud of him, he’s a very mature person and he’s one of the strongest people I know.”
He’ll have surgery soon to repair the injury. There will be tough days ahead, but it appears the one thing Curry can rely on is having a good attitude going forward. In his mind, he doesn’t have much other choice. He just wants to play basketball.
“I think positive, I think ahead, I know I’m going to be back better than ever, so I just try to keep that energy, keep that hope alive,” Curry said.